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The Pinal County Sheriff is Deputizing Citizens; Here’s Why That’s Dangerous and Could Lead to More Gun Violence in Arizona

August 5, 2020

The Pinal County Sheriff’s Office’s new “Citizens Posse,” a program that will call on participants to join law enforcement during “hypothetical emergency situations, or times of widespread unrest,” has already received more than 400 inquiries. The program would require participants to undergo just four hours of training to learn about constitutional law, search and seizure, basic firearm safety, home safety, and the use of force. And according to the application, it would allow applicants with previous felony charges to apply.  

This isn’t the first time Arizona sheriffs have enacted dangerous programs that impact the safety of civilians: According to the Arizona Republic, Maricopa County had a similar civilian program rife with problems. In 2017, one of the members of the program was accused of holding people at gunpoint under the guise of law enforcement. And in 2019, “an internal audit of the posse found that less than 2% of members were qualified to be in the program.” The Maricopa County program has since been reformed but there is no guarantee Pinal County’s program will not experience similar issues.

At a time when people across the country are demanding laws to improve police training, hold law enforcement officers accountable, and end police violence, the Pinal County Sheriff’s office is seeking to allow citizens with nearly no training at all to perform police duties –– potentially empowering the kind of armed vigilantism that could lead to more gun violence against already disproportionately impacted communities, including Black, American Indian, and Latino residents in Arizona. 

Here are additional reasons why this program could contribute to more gun violence in Arizona:

  • Arizona is a permitless carry state, which allows people in Arizona over the age of 21 to carry hidden, loaded guns in public places without a permit or safety training – making the four hours of training by the Pinal Sheriff’s department the only training the members of the “Citizens Posse” would go through before carrying a firearm under the guise of law enforcement.
  • Arizona already has among the weakest gun laws in the country, with no legal requirements for background checks on unlicensed gun sales. To date, the legislature in Arizona has refused to take action to reduce gun violence, even when more than 1,000 Arizonans are shot and killed every year. 
  • Arizona has the 18th-highest rate of gun deaths in the United States, and gun violence disproportionately impacts Black, American Indian, and Latino people in Arizona. Black people in Arizona are six times as likely to die by gun homicide as white people. Latinos also made up 41 percent of all firearm homicides in Arizona between 2014 and 2018. 

More statistics about gun violence in Arizona are available here, and information on how Arizona’s gun laws compare to other states’ overall is available here

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